Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen. Ask yourself and your partner these questions:
- Do you snore heavily, or wake up gasping or choking during the night?
- Do you regularly wake up with a headache or feeling tired?
- Is it hard for you to keep your eyes open at the end of the day?
These are all possible signs of obstructive sleep apnea, which affects more than 40 percent of construction workers, managers, mechanics, and truck drivers. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where the soft tissues of the throat close or partially block the airway during sleep, preventing normal breathing. This reduces blood oxygen and causes sufferers to wake multiple times during the night. These awakenings are usually so brief that they are not remembered in the morning, but they can have a major impact on your quality of sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea and driving
A recent study, in concert with the American Trucking Association, found of 500 long distance truck drivers more than 200 suffered from some degree of sleep apnea. OSA caused fatigue and made it difficult to concentrate while driving. Accidents often follow.
Sleep apnea causes more than tiredness
Sleep apnea can leave you tired throughout the day, increasing the likelihood of accidents, poor performance and judgment. OSA has also been linked to a host of serious cardiovascular problems, including:
- coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to your heart
- heart attack—people with untreated OSA are twice as likely to have a heart attack
- stroke and sudden cardiac death
- high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and other medical problems
- abnormal heart rhythms, especially AFib; people with OSA are four times more likely to have AFib than those without OSA
Who is at risk?
Although sleep apnea is twice as common in men, women have a higher risk for sleep problems after menopause. It’s also seen more often in people who are overweight, as well as in African-Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders. In general, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about sleep apnea if you:
- are over 40 years old
- are overweight or obese—though keep in mind it can happen even if you are thin
- have high blood pressure or diabetes
- snort or snore during sleep
- your partner has mentioned that you often gasp for breath at night or stop breathing for some period of time
- know someone in your family who has had it
- have a large neck or smaller airway in your nose, throat or mouth
- get headaches in the morning
- smoke – quitting smoking is one of the main things you can do for your heart health
- have allergies
Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea
Your primary care doctor or oral surgeon can refer you to a sleep specialist, who will use an overnight sleep study to measure your sleep, breathing and oxygen levels. Self-study and at home study are often the first non-invasive steps in diagnosing the issue. Mild cases of sleep apnea can be treated by wearing a specialized oral appliance (similar to a mouth guard) during the night. Depending on the cause, an oral surgeon can modify the throat and sinus opening to permanently address the issue. Many cases are treated by using a CPAP machine, which keeps the airways open during sleep by delivering slightly pressurized air via a nose mask.
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything“
Irish Proverb, Origin unknown